Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Challenge of a Tax Ratification Election (TRE)

I was reviewing emails and came across an analysis of recent tax ratification elections and outcomes.  The good news is that 28 of the 31 districts who recently held elections received voter approval.  Many of these are smaller rural districts, and the boards and administration now have a bit more flexibility in how they set the direction of the district.

The bad news is that the three that did not pass (Frisco, Marlin and Yantis) will face challenges in addressing the needs of the students in their districts.  As a former trustee, I believe strongly that boards of trustees across the state are working diligently and with responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars to do what they can to address student needs, while balancing this with consideration of the financial impact on taxpayers in the district.  Clearly, not all taxpayers felt the same way.

What are the factors that impact a district’s ability to secure voter approval of a TRE?  I’ve thought about this and there seem to be a couple of reasons.  At the top of the list is voter apathy.  In the case of Frisco ISD, voter turnout was less than 17% but that number is still well above what voter turnout has typically been.  I don’t have a breakdown of voter turnout but it is certainly likely that many who supported the TRE thought that it would pass and failed to exercise their right to vote.  I know that this was the case when my district tried to pass a TRE but it was defeated, largely to a greater “’get out the vote” effort on the part of those opposed to the TRE.

A second challenge is how to get information to people so that they can make an informed decision and cast their votes accordingly.  I have grandchildren in Frisco ISD and followed the communication via social media very closely.  I also drove through neighborhoods and saw significant number of signs supporting the TRE.  Yet, on voting day, it was defeated by a 58-42% margin.  Perhaps those opposed to the request conducted a more grassroots effort than did those in support; I don’t know that for certain since I don’t live in Frisco ISD but it’s clear that the opposition’s message landed better with the majority of voters.

A third factor is that the success of a district may mask the overall need for additional funding and investment (reference a prior blog relating to investments in public education).  Everything that I see relating to Frisco ISD suggests that they have done a tremendous job of responding to unparalleled growth in their district.  So for many people, until programs are cut, until class size increases, until “pay to play” and similar fees are implemented, many don’t have a sense of the challenges faced by the board in making financial decisions.

Where do we go from here?  I believe that we will continue to see a majority of TRE’s pass but that there will be pockets (Frisco as the fastest growing district in the state is an easy target) where groups galvanize to oppose a ballot initiative.  My challenge to those people is to transform their opposition into something more than simply saying “no”, to get engaged in the district and to provide constructive feedback on how to address the student’s needs.  That, after all, is what this should be about, not simply voting “no” without understanding the need, the options and the ramifications of decisions.  It’s up to all of us to continue to tell the public education story and to ensure that we Make Education a Priority.  Our kids are watching!

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